A bright red dress usually symbolizes elegance and joy, but to the students of Julie Ramey’s Citizenship 9 class at North Queens Community School, a red dress takes on a more ominous meaning.
The Red Dress Project was developed by a Winnipeg-based Métis artist. Jamie Black launched the Red Dress Project as a way of bringing attention to the serious — and, in some cases, misunderstood — rising statistics of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
Black would collect and display more than 600 red dresses of all sizes and styles at very public venues. When the project was launched in 2015, the RCMP reported that 1,200 Indigenous had been murdered or gone missing in Canada in the last 30 years. The project gained national attention and has expanded the awareness of this very critical issue in our country.
Ramey’s class took part in a project at the school this past October. They engaged some younger students in their school — along with members of the local Indigenous community — to learn more about Mi'kmaq traditions during Mi'kmaq History month, and discuss the Red Dress Project.
Ramey attended a conference in November and took a tour of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights where she witnessed a display on the Red Dress Project. Upon her return, armed with photos, the students launched the project with her guidance. In her words, they have expanded the original concept “virtually every day.”
The students are very engaged in the project with the end goal to raise local awareness. They have spent many hours researching the subject, capturing statistics along with raising their personal awareness to a new level.
The students have found there’s a lack of consistent information, making it difficult at times, but it’s in no way deterred their enthusiasm. The original thought was to attempt to collect 30 red dresses, but so far they have 32 dresses and will gladly accept as many as possible.
These dresses will be repaired, if needed — by the students — and attached to wooden hangers for display purposes. The original plan was to do something at the school and make the community aware of their project, but they decided to expand their reach to entice other schools to get involved.
The students have landed on a three-event plan for their project: ceremonies at their school, a local park, and the Wildcat Reserve in the Caledonia area, all leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8.
The class has been in working groups to cover all aspects of the project, focusing on everything from research, communications and event management to financing, sorting and artistic direction.
The motivation of these young people is incredible to see, and their enthusiasm was given a boost via a letter from a community member thanking them for their work. The letter-writer said his great-grandmother was murdered many years ago, the crime has never been solved and their family has lost that connection to the past forever.
The students voiced their feelings by saying the importance of spreading awareness will hopefully increase the focus that seems to be lost. Others indicated that they feel like this is “a secret that needs to see the light of day,” and if they can do anything to help make people more aware, then they’ve succeeded. Others describe the issue as something that’s “been covered up,” “not spoken about” and that it’s wrong “voices have been silenced.”
The research team was able to discover that Indigenous women represent 4 per cent of the Canadian population. Of the entire population that go missing or are murder victims, 16 per cent are Indigenous women.
To get more information on this amazing project or learn how you can contribute, please contact North Queens Community School at (902) 682-3500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.